Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gnocchi at Home

Tonight, I was on my own for dinner. I still don't have a handle on Houston restaurants that are cheap, close, and do takeout, so on nights like this I head to the grocery store with sybaritic abandon. I ended up with about five pounds of grapefruit (sale!), blackberries, gnocchi, sauce, potato chips, wine, and chocolate.

For dinner, I cooked the gnocchi and topped it with Cento's arrabiata sauce, then had a glass of wine, some blackberries and chocolate, and some potato chips. The gnocchi was ok. I bought a different brand than I usually do, and it was a little gluey. Good pasta sauce makes anything better (although I've been known to eat good pasta sauce as a meal in itself); the Cento is hard to find, but really good and spicy. I can taste each ingredient, but it's still integrated into a cohesive sauce rather than tasting like a bunch of chopped veggies. The wine was "Notorious" Nero d'Avola. I suppose the name is a takeoff on the Mafia's strong presence in Sicily, where Nero comes from. I LOVE the grape. This particular wine is dark and tannic, with really full berry and pepper flavors, and is a good, but not amazing, example of what I like in Nero d'Avola.

I also had some pre-dinner potato chips, in which I was pretty disappointed. I usually completely avoid the snack food aisle, but I wanted something to munch on tonight. I really like Boulder Canyon Potato Chip Co's garlic parm chips, so I was intrigued by their crinkle-cut sour cream and onion chips, which I'd never seen before. Ick. I like their other chip varieties for their minimal ingredients and lack of weird fake seasonings, but apparently sour cream flavor is hard to execute without them. They taste papery and flat; I'm not sure I could distinguish them from something Frito Lay made in a blind taste test. Dessert was much better- very ripe blackberries and some chocolate.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vietnamese Sardines at Home

I couldn't type yesterday, due to an unfortunate wine bottle accident. I managed to slice open the tip of my finger while removing the foil from a bottle of Merlot. I'm not going to talk about the Merlot meal, but suffice it to say that Whole Foods' house brand California Merlot is every bit as bad as the $5.99 price tag implies. My fault, for wondering if a cheap bottle of wine from CA can ever be good. Answer: NO. It was watery, with an alcoholic tang. It didn't even taste like Merlot- more like the worst Pinot Noir in the world. Sad, because WF's organic Chilean wine is just as cheap, and really good.
So, what else did I eat yesterday?

Sometimes, I'm a little too adventurous when I shop at the Chinese supermarket...

I think I learned my lesson.

I was intrigued by these because they purport to be an entire Vietnamese meal in a little can. They're also pretty good for you, and each can was about $1 (yes, I bought more than one- different flavors). Unfortunately, they look like cat food, and taste...musty. The rice is a little gummy, and clings together in an unappetizing mass upon exiting the can. The "sardines" are a dark brown color that makes me wonder what they really are. They tasted just ok, but the texture was mealy. This particular can was "spicy", and contained chili paste and keffir lime. The heat level was good, and it masked some of the sardiney weirdness. I can't imagine how bland some of the other flavors are, if this was barely tolerable. Maybe, one day, I will work up my courage and try the basil leaf flavored can.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Berryhill Baja Grill in Houston

First, I have to share this little blog post about fresh wasabi. It is the best thing in the world, and I got nerdily excited just looking at that lovely field of wasabi plants.

Ok, dinner:

Tonight for dinner, I had a pork tamale and fish taco combination plate from Berryhill Baja Grill. Berryhill is a large Texas chain that has one outpost in Cancun. It wasn't bad, per se, I was just not impressed. To be fair, I didn't expect to like it. I like sketchy taqueria Mexican food, particularly Jalisco-style, and American-style chains rarely fit the bill. On the good side, I was able to try a decent cross-section of the menu because they're very flexible about letting you make your own combination plates. Prices weren't too bad, and they have margaritas and Mexican beer available.

My taco was just weird. They get points for using corn tortillas rather than flour, and for providing two to keep the juices from soaking through and disintegrating the tortilla. But, well, there was mayonnaise on it. I only recently got over my aversion to mayo, and it definitely doesn't belong on a tortilla. There was also romaine lettuce on it, which I promptly yanked off. Cabbage=good. Shredded iceberg=ok. Large sheaves of romaine, no. It also contained tomatoes, which were fine. The fish had a peculiar pinkish tone, but otherwise looked like it wanted to be tilapia. The menu doesn't mention what sort of fish it was. Mystery fish, yum. At least it wasn't overcooked.

The tamales were much more innocuous: shredded pork in slightly sweet masa. The pork was a little dry, but otherwise not bad. It came with an adobo-like sauce that I wanted to like, but for the strange, musty aftertaste. Too much tamarind and lime juice, I think. It reminded me a bit of A-1 steak sauce, which is also tamarind-heavy.

The beans were not bad, just not really worth talking about. I got black ones, with a little sour cream squiggle.

On a positive note, they have free chips, salsa, limes, and escabeche. The escabeche (marinated carrots and jalapeño...I had to look it up, too) was much milder than at a taqueria, and very tasty. The chips were sad, but that probably had something to do with our off-peak dining hour. I didn't have any salsa, but it looked good.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's not normal, indeed.

Tonight, I had a taco plate from Freebirds Burrito, with chips, salsa, and a diet Dr. Pepper.

Freebirds (it's driving me crazy not to put an apostrophe in there somewhere)is a small chain of burrito joints that I always thought was from Texas, but was apparently started in California. They're very popular in Texas, particularly with the college student market. I'm picky about burritos, and mostly ambivalent about Freebirds, which to me tastes identical to Chipotle (ie, badly seasoned, salty beans and textureless meat). My favorite burritos in the world come from Big City Burrito in Colorado, also a small burrito chain that also is popular with college students. They have a much cooler logo:

But I digress. I wasn't in the mood for a mediocre burrito, so I decided to try the items on their menu that differentiate them a bit from Chipotle- in this case, tacos. The burrito girl flirted with me shamelessly while making my burrito, which caused her to repeatedly screw it up. Nice compliment, I guess. I'd love to know why it's always girls in the food service industry who think I'm a lesbian. Anyway, I ended up with carnitas, pico de gallo, onion, cilantro, and cheese in corn tortillas. One also contained iceberg lettuce, because I didn't catch burrito girl's last mistake in time.

I'm still unimpressed with Freebirds. I'd forgotten how much I dislike their beans, so their presence sort of ruined the whole taco. I couldn't taste the carnitas at all through the beans' salty, smoky haze. Their chips were decent, and the accompanying salsa was actually very good, if acidic. The salsa's tomatoes had a pureed but still chunky consistency, with onion and lime flavor and some heat.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Soup at Home

Exciting dramatic use of breadsticks, no?

For dinner, I had tomato soup, roasted potatoes, and some ciabatta bread, with a glass of red wine left over from a few nights back.
The potatoes were very creamy on the inside, and the bread was great to accompany the soup. I don't talk about soup often, because I don't ever eat it.

Soup is like salad to me- most of it is not very filling and not very interesting. I make exceptions for spinach and arugula salads, and for French onion soup (yummmmm). I especially hate tomato soup. It's a longstanding dislike, going back to early childhood. I blame Campbells' funny grainy texture and metallic taste for turning me off. Other brands are too creamy and gloppy. Tonight's soup, however, was really good- albeit still full of cream. It was a tomato-chipotle soup from Whole Foods' prepared foods section. I never would have considered it, but for the fact they were giving out samples last week while I shopped. I wasn't in a soup mood last week, and I stay away from cream-based soups regardless of how tasty they might be anyway...and then I got sick. Hello soup! It has a nice smoky heat that balances the tomatoey creaminess well. It made me feel a little better, and, perhaps more importantly, the dog loved my leftovers.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

HomemadeTurkey Dinner

For dinner, I had a yummy home-cooked meal courtesy of my great-aunt and grandmother. Said great-aunt is visiting from NH, and loves to cook. I love her cooking, so dinner was awesome.

They roasted a huge turkey and made delicious gravy. I dislike gravy, but theirs was really flavorful. Apparently, part of the secret is to make a broth with the giblets and add it to the pan drippings. I'm also curious to try this as a shortcut to broth-making, or maybe as an additional step in making stock to enhance flavor. Sides included mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and salad. Dessert was a store-bought triple chocolate cake with ice cream. Everything was very tasty, and made with lots of love.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

OMG, awesomeness.

What the hell is this, you ask?
Well, Blockbuster Video sells the strangest candy. For years, it was the only place I could dependably find Nerds Ropes. I was there a few days ago, and found something so truly bizarre, I had to try it......

Why yes, that IS chocolate. With Pop Rocks. All I can say is, it's everything I'd imagined it would be, but better. Much, much better.

The chocolate isn't terribly amazing, but who cares? It has Pop Rocks embedded in it. I don't even know what to say. It's just that awesome.

Quirky dinner at home

For dinner, I had basmati rice with fava beans, and a gianduja-filled wrap.

The rice was cooked in my amazing rice cooker, and dressed with Marie Sharp's mild sauce and sea salt. I mixed the rice with our favorite canned fava beans from the local Middle Eastern market. They are "Palestinian recipe", which, after much fava-tasting, is our favorite. In general, you can't go too wrong with canned favas, but I recommend staying away from the Egyptian-style beans- I don't remember what is in them, but they smell like vomit. They taste fine, but I could never get past the smell. Palestinian-style, however, is so very good. It is typified by cooked favas and garbanzos in a lemony garlic and olive oil sauce.

The wrap probably should've been filled with some of the Sabra hummus we have in the fridge, but we bought the million-pound tub of hummus from Costo awhile back, and I'm hummused out. Instead, I filled our high-fiber rye tortilla wraps (seriously, check out how scary healthy these are) with hazelnut-chocolate paste. A bit iconoclastic, but overall pretty good. I was concerned about the nexus of rye (which I kind of hate anyway- I bought the wrong flavor wraps by mistake) and chocolate, but it was barely noticeable. In the end, it was probably better than using the other wraps we have around, which are tomato-basil flavored.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Iranian Leftovers and Sushi

For dinner, I had chicken leftovers from Kasra, my favorite Persian restaurant (thanks, Nima!), and some grocery-store sushi, with a glass of Spanish wine.

The Persian leftovers were fesenjan: chicken in a ground walnut and pomegranate sauce. It's sweet, savory, tart, and oily, with a gritty texture imparted by the nuts. I guess it sounds icky, and I'm told it's an acquired taste, but I love it.

There weren't many leftovers from Kasra, so I supplemented dinner with some store-bought sushi. Such sushi usually takes a hit for its origins, but this wasn't any worse than what you'd find at most sushi happy hours. I chose basic salmon rolls, eaten mostly alone (the accompanying soy sauce was unusually cloying, and the wasabi reeked of ammonia). The sushi itself was nicely cut, and was clearly fresh- no fishy taste or dried-out seaweed.

I also had a glass of Viña Borgia's 100% grenache, which was awesome. It's a relatively light, dry red with significant fruitiness. It's not as lean as a good Cotes du Rhone, and stylistically a bit different, but all the better for evening sipping. It was on sale at the local Whole Foods for just over $5, and is (like practically any wine from Spain) a wonderful steal.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cafe Brazil, again.

For lunch, I had a turkey sandwich from Cafe Brazil. Sound boring? It also contained arugula, brie, and apricot mustard. On toasted focaccia. Very yuppie, but definitely not boring. It was actually very good, particularly the yummy apricot mustard sauce. My only major complaint was a cheese distribution failure . There was a huge slab of brie in the center of each sandwich half, leaving two-thirds of the sandwich to suffer, brie-less. Then there is the price point issue- I try not to order sandwiches there because they don't come with a side, unless you count the two forlorn cornichons and olives. For $8, a couple of chips would create a lot of goodwill. But no.